Courtney Snyder, MD
Have you ever tried so hard to solve a problem, that you couldn't see the answer right in front of you?
I had that experience after a long period of pursuing health challenges for my daughter and me. We'd made good progress and with my new found energy and focus, I quickly shifted my attention to something else to relentlessly work on - my career. I knew I didn't I want to return to the kind of psychiatric practice I had previously. I couldn't imagine an alternative, despite just having spent a good part of a decade immersed in the relationship between nutrition, the gut-brain connection, and autoimmunity.
To give myself a mental break from problem solving, I read, "EAT, PRAY, LOVE". I was only 8 years behind. There were many things I loved about that book, but none more than the moment Elizabeth Gilbert asks for a sign and gets one. This was something I'd never considered.
After dropping my daughter off at school one morning, I drove near the Ohio River. Irritated with my persistent goal directed thoughts, I wondered, "If Liz can ask for a sign and get one, ...why can't I? So after a lifetime of believing I somehow controlled things, I asked (to whom I didn't consider - G-d, the universe, my soul, the air) "Please,...just give me a sign." Within seconds, a large heron flew over the hood of my car.
Knowing a sign has presented itself and knowing what it means are two very different things. I read about herons. There were many interpretations - some conflicting. All that mattered, however, was the one that connected with me - the heron's ability to stand extremely still. When not flying (and assisting in divine intervention) it just stands.... without moving.....seemingly forever. No impatience. No 'making things happen'. No sticking it's head hastily in water searching around for fish. The heron simply waits for the right moment. Then and only then, does it move quickly and seize that moment.
The image of a motionless heron allowed me to finally call off all attempts to figure out and solve my problem. Instead, I waited...and waited. Eventually I could see that what I'd been living and learning while away from psychiatry was exactly what I needed to bring to my work. My life which had been an uphill push soon began to unfold more effortlessly. I still need that image of the heron to remind me to stop and trust that the answers will come.
I have no doubt that letting go and choosing stillness lowers my stress (and stress hormones) and has a positive impact on my health. This mind shift doesn't require a belief as much as acceptance, humility and a little practice. For me it also required being open to an event and making meaning of it. If you're seeking answers in your own life, consider staying open to your signs however they present themselves.
During a difficult time, Paul McCartney's mother, who died when he was 14, came to him in a dream. Her name was Mary and she inspired the lyric.....
"When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be....
There will be an answer,...
let it be"
6/15/2015 09:41:02 pm
Courtney, I adore the heron post. You are bold and standing in your truth about the power of Spirit. I think it's so hard for us as psychiatrists to come out of the closet in that way. You also reminded me about asking for a sign. That is an important practice and tool and I never do it explicitly. I am going to go for a walk and do it right now. We can use all the help that we can get. Thank you!
6/15/2015 11:58:39 pm
Thank you, Judy. Such is the nature of things. Perhaps your walk will inspire something you'll write that'll go onto inspire or help someone else (as you are already doing so often on your own blog).
6/16/2015 12:37:50 pm
I appreciate BOTH of you for your post/comments. I have not found psychiatrists on a spiritual path or even on a turf of "related". I love and appreciate your intellect, your training/medical aptitude but combined with heart and soul...that is the combo that I need. And Courtney, these posts are so vulnerable and real. When I read your blog I exhale, I relax and I find myself in your words. Thank you for trusting the heron!
6/17/2015 04:24:02 am
Thank you, Martha. I'm glad you find the blog useful. In psychiatric training, we are taught (for good reason), to have strict boundaries which is ultimately to protect the people receiving treatment. A sad byproduct of this can be that psychiatrists can seem detached and less than human at times. That might explain some of your experience. There are likely many (?) psychiatrists on a spiritual path who would be very reluctant to share that part of their lives. I share to the extent that I think it can be useful to another person, ie. a way of providing tools that I've used and also I suppose to communicate that we all struggle with the human condition and not just them. There is a fine line. I don't, nor do I have a desire to share many aspects of my life that wouldn't fit in this useful test. Judy, (if you see this), I'd be interested in your thoughts on this as well. Thanks again, Martha.
6/17/2015 03:19:41 am
So beautiful Courtney! Just what I needed to hear today. Thanks so much for posting :)
6/17/2015 04:25:37 am
You're welcome. Thank you.
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Courtney Snyder, MD
I'm a conventionally trained child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist. My current approach to health is both holistic (pertaining to the whole person) and functional (addressing the root causes of illness). I write this blog to share what I've learned.